Earlier this week Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith posted at Publisher’s Weekly about the difficulties they have had in trying to find an agent for their YA dystopia with a gay protagonist. Both are published authors with proven track records, yet when they tried to sell this piece the doors closed. One agent
offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.
While on the one hand I was horrified, my mind couldn’t help but think of counterexamples of YA genre work with gay protagonists such as Hero by Perry Moore, Witch Eyes by Scott Tracy, or Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo. I was curious what one of these authors would say about the challenges they had or had not faced while trying to publish LGBTQ genre fiction.
It turns out Malinda Lo has been asked this question so many times that she blogged a response. While she has had some negative reactions, she has mostly been fortunate in the level of support she’s received:
I know that homophobia still exists (especially in my personal life, see gay marriage situation), but in publishing, well … Commercial publishing in the United States is so gay-friendly it’s practically Gay Utopia. I mean, children’s book editors are, frankly, notoriously liberal! (Or else, open secret, they’re gay!) And they live and work in New York City, which is second only to San Francisco in Gay Utopicness.
Scott Tracey, too, has faced and responded to this question, as well as reacting directly to the article. While he did face agents and editors who wanted him to straightwash his characters, his book eventually found its proper home. He says:
It’s not a black and white issue. Publishing is not completely homophobic, or completely supportive. It varies, and it changes, and there’s no one standard for how things work. It’s a business, and it’s a business run by MANY different people with MANY different beliefs.
If you want more books with LGBT content, buy the ones that are already out there. Show publishers that there’s profit to be made by investing in these books.
So while I think there are some egregious examples of if not homophobia then fear of homophobia in the children’s publishing industry — including Jessica Verday choosing to withdraw from an anthology rather than meet the editor’s demand that she make the gay love story a straight one — there are other examples of authors who have found success. I can only hope that these success stories will cause agents and publishers to redo their saleability math and realize that there is a market for LGBTQ fiction for teens and children. If you feel the same way, follow Scott Tracey’s advice and invest in these books.